21 November, 2007

Malaysia, Indonesia both facing Malay malaise ?

Malaysia, Indonesia both facing Malay malaise

The Jakarta Post
BY:Julia Suryakusuma, Melbourne

When my brother and I were small we fought all the time. We both felt we couldn't get on, and so our youth was marked by constant squabbling.

As we grew older (and wiser!) we realized just how much we had in common: We have the same parents, shared family background and history. Of course our personalities and characters are different, but as adults we can acknowledge these differences, respect them and see ourselves as complementing each other.

Indonesia-Malaysian relations have been similarly characterized with this kind of childish competition. Our two nations have been bickering since our younger sibling Malaysia was born. President Sukarno's policy of Konfrontasi with Malaysia led to a political, and eventually military, fight over the future of Borneo/Kalimantan from 1962 to 1969. At its height, this conflict drew in the UK, New Zealand and Australia.

But our sibling rivalry reached new heights of immaturity this year when both nations claimed ownership rights to the Rasa Sayange song, used extensively by the Malaysian tourism industry. Prominent Indonesians rushed to save the song, including lawmakers, parliamentarians, ministers, heads of political parties, heads of musicians' unions, the governor of Maluku, and the director-general of intellectual property rights at the Human Rights Ministry.

Rasa Sayange was created by an Ambonese man from the Mollucas, in 1907, they insisted, and had been "stolen" by Malaysia. A phonograph record given by President Sukarno to participants in the Asian Games in 1962 was dug up. It contained Indonesian folk songs, including Rasa Sayange. Proof, the Indonesian authorities proclaimed. (Hmmm, this must be one of the very rare occasions that our nation, famous for sweeping the past under the carpet of modern political convenience, has given two hoots about historical accuracy!)

An inflammatory Rasa Sayange petition was posted on the Internet, tempers flared and self-righteous calls were made to sue Malaysia for stealing our national heritage. What irony! Indonesia, of course, has long been one of the world's greatest infringers of intellectual property rights, pirating software, branded goods, CDs, DVDs and, yes, songs too. And just to prove the point, if you are after fakes, you need go no further than the lobby of the Directorate General of Intellectual Property Rights, where there is actually a kiosk selling knock-off watches, bags, belts, socks, wallets and CDs!

The absurd storm in a teacup over Rasa Sayange is just an outlet for the resentment Indonesians feel towards Malaysia, because of a long list of irritations between the two countries. These have included the haze (caused by forest fires in Kalimantan and some in Malaysian Borneo too); illegal logging (of which both countries are guilty), territorial disputes over Bintan, Sipadan and Ligitan islands, and more recently, Ambalat in the Sulawesi Sea, the brutal assault of an Indonesian karate referee by a Malaysian, the detention of an Indonesian diplomat's wife, and claims of ongoing mistreatment of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia.

I suppose it's easier to fuss over a song than to resolve the longstanding problems of our migrant workers, who face horrendous problems in both sending and receiving countries. Neither Indonesia nor Malaysia have good track records when it comes to human rights, and Indonesia still has problems upholding workers' rights, despite recent reforms.

But this doesn't justify what Indonesians consider to be Malaysia's rampant abuse and exploitation of our migrant workers. Even Anwar Ibrahim, former deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia and still a leading political figure, has exhorted Malaysia to treat our migrant workers humanely and not be arrogant in dealing with Indonesia -- and he should know what he's talking about, given his own bruising experience of Malaysian law enforcement!

Like my brother and me, Malaysians and Indonesians share family similarities. We both come from the same Malay ethnic stock (roughly a cross between Indian and Chinese, with occasional bits of Arab thrown in), and are predominantly Muslims. But, also like my brother and me, there are huge differences as well.

Indonesia is almost six times the size, and has a population almost 10 times bigger than Malaysia. The 300 ethnic groups of Indonesia make us far more culturally diverse than Malaysia, which has three main ethnic groups (Malays, Chinese and Indians) as well as indigenous minorities, such as the Orang Asli and tribal groups in Borneo. Much of Malay culture is derived from Indonesia, including language, food, music, angklung (bamboo musical instrument), kebaya-blouse, batik and wayang shadow puppets. They even love our crappy soapies!

So what does it matter if they say that Rasa Sayange is theirs? We have much more where that song came from, so why worry? In fact, why worry at all if Malaysia acts up? Everything Malaysia has, Indonesia has more of, including problems and we need to get on with doing something about them, rather than fighting over a tacky song.

In fact, managing a country the size and complexity of Indonesia is no simple matter. It's much easier to focus in a small nation. Mahathir, Malaysia's strongman of 22 years proved this, spearheading the phenomenal growth of the Malaysian economy to become one of the largest in Southeast Asia. In the end, though, wealth ain't everything.

Malaysia is perhaps what we call in Indonesia OKB (orang kaya baru -- nouveau riche), needing conspicuous consumption, and large scale national projects like the Petronas towers to make up for the fact most of the cultural heritage and rich history of the Malay archipelago -- Borobudur, for example -- is located next door in Indonesia.

Indonesia is not even close to eradicating poverty to the extent Malaysia has. In fact, most of our social indicators are still pretty awful. But in the long run, we may have more going for us. Our greater size means greater problems but it also means greater resources, markets and power. We need to capitalize on the blessings of our wealth and abundance by managing and distributing our resources better, rather than wasting our energy on juvenile spats with our younger and smaller neighbor. Why show off our inferiority complex?

If we could develop a less fragile ego and if Malaysia can learn to resist prodding us in our sore spots, there is a chance that Indonesia and Malaysia could recover from their Malay malaise, and develop a healthy, mature sibling relationship that benefits us all.

After all, my brother and I get on famously now and if we can do it, anyone can!

(The writer is the author of Sex, Power and Nation. She can be contacted at jsuryakusuma@gmail.com)

Truth and justice are no longer Malaysian way

The Age
Michael Backman

Recent street protests have highlighted the self-serving nature of Malaysia's Government.

THE Government of Australia will probably change hands this weekend. There will be no arrests, no tear gas and no water cannons. The Government of John Howard will leave office, the Opposition will form a government and everyone will accept the verdict.

For this, every Australian can feel justifiably proud. This playing by the rules is what has made Australia rich and a good place in which to invest. It is a country to which people want to migrate; not leave.

Now consider Malaysia. The weekend before last, up to 40,000 Malaysians took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur to protest peacefully against the judiciary's lack of independence, electoral fraud, corruption and a controlled media.

In response, they were threatened by the Prime Minister, called monkeys by his powerful son-in-law, and blasted with water cannons and tear gas. And yet the vast majority of Malaysians do not want a change of government. All they want is for their government to govern better.

Both Malaysia and Australia have a rule of law that's based on the English system. Both started out as colonies of Britain. So why is Malaysia getting it so wrong now?

Malaysia's Government hates feedback. Dissent is regarded as dangerous, rather than a product of diversity. And like the wicked witch so ugly that she can't stand mirrors, the Government of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi controls the media so that it doesn't have to see its own reflection.

Demonstrations are typically banned. But what every Malaysian should know is that in Britain, Australia and other modern countries, when people wish to demonstrate, the police typically clear the way and make sure no one gets hurt. The streets belong to the people. And the police, like the politicians, are their servants. It is not the other way around.

But increasingly in Malaysia, Malaysians are being denied a voice — especially young people.

Section 15 of Malaysia's Universities and University Colleges Act states that no student shall be a member of or in any manner associate with any society, political party, trade union or any other organisation, body or group of people whatsoever, be it in or outside Malaysia, unless it is approved in advance and in writing by the vice-chancellor.

Nor can any student express or do anything that may be construed as expressing support, sympathy or opposition to any political party or union. Breaking this law can lead to a fine, a jail term or both.

The judiciary as a source of independent viewpoints has been squashed. The previous prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, did many good things for Malaysia, but his firing of the Lord President (chief justice) and two other Supreme Court judges in 1988 was an unmitigated disaster. Since then, what passes for a judiciary in Malaysia has been an utter disgrace and the Government knows it.

Several years ago, Daim Zainuddin, the country's then powerful finance minister, told me that judges in Malaysia were idiots. Of course we want them to be biased, he told me, but not that biased.

Rarely do government ministers need to telephone a judge and demand this or that verdict because the judges are so in tune with the Government's desires that they automatically do the Government's beckoning.

Just how appalling Malaysia's judiciary has become was made clear in recent weeks with the circulation of a video clip showing a senior lawyer assuring someone by telephone that he will lobby the Government to have him made Lord President of the Supreme Court because he had been loyal to the Government. That someone is believed to have been Ahmad Fairuz Abdul Halim, who did in fact become Lord President.

A protest march organised by the Malaysian Bar Council was staged in response to this, and corruption among the judiciary in general. But the mainstream Malaysian media barely covered the march even though up to 2000 Bar Council members were taking part. Reportedly, the Prime Minister's office instructed editors to play down the event.

Instead of a free media, independent judges and open public debate, Malaysians are given stunts — the world's tallest building and most recently, a Malaysian cosmonaut. Essentially, they are given the play things of modernity but not modernity itself.

Many senior Malays are absolutely despairing at the direction of their country today. But with the media tightly controlled they have no way of getting their views out to their fellow countrymen. This means that most Malaysians falsely assume that the Malay elite is unified when it comes to the country's direction.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, a former finance minister and today still a member of the Government, told me several weeks ago in Kuala Lumpur that he could see no reason why today Malaysia could not have a completely free media, a completely independent judiciary and that corrupt ministers and other officials should be publicly exposed and humiliated.

According to Tengku Razaleigh, all of the institutions designed to make Malaysia's Government accountable and honest have been dismantled or neutered.

It didn't need to be like this. Malaysia is not North Korea or Indonesia. It is something quite different. Its legal system is based on British codes. Coupled with traditional Malay culture, which is one of the world's most hospitable, decent and gentle cultures, Malaysia has the cultural and historical underpinnings to become one of Asia's most civilised, rules-based, successful societies.

Instead, Malaysia's Government is incrementally wasting Malaysia's inheritance.

Also available
on Michael Backman's Website :

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